The haste with which Romney responded late Tuesday to the chaotic and unfolding events in Egypt and Libya spoke to a candidate who appeared overly eager to assert himself at a time when the election narrative had turned against him in the wake of the two political conventions.
How much his initial statement condemning the administration for sympathizing with anti-American interests in the Muslim world was motivated by political need rather than full comprehension of the events may never be known. Romney saw an opportunity and seized it.
Late Tuesday, the Republican nominee approved the release of an embargoed statement (so as not to break the tacit understanding about no aggressive campaigning on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks) and then almost immediately agreed to break the embargo. He appeared eager to gain a political advantage at a moment of national tragedy before all the facts were known.
Once that was done, the candidate for whom “No Apology” is more than just a book title, decided to go all in, preempting a presidential appearance in the Rose Garden to issue a denunciation of the administration’s actions and policies. “An apology for America’s values is never the right course,” Romney told reporters.
Obama, who almost smirked as he talked at the Democratic National Convention about Romney being a foreign-policy novice, stayed above the fray in his first public comments about the killings in Benghazi, Libya, and the riots in Cairo. But hours after that Rose Garden appearance with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama dived back into the political debate, offering tart criticism of his rival in an interview with CBS News for “60 Minutes.”
“Governor Romney,” he said, “seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that. ” Obama said he would “let the American people judge” whether Romney had been irresponsible in his statements. His personal conclusion was obvious.
As events and reactions unfolded Wednesday, it became clear that Romney was leading a Republican Party divided in its response to his reaction to the crisis. Some Republicans rallied around him, condemning the Obama administration as weak and rudderless in its foreign policy. They also noted that the administration has distanced itself from the very statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Egypt that Romney had attacked.
But others were either sharply critical of Romney for injecting politics into a moment when the country should be rallying together or far more measured in their reactions, mourning the loss of life while withholding political judgments for another day — the better course given what happened.